Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Sunday 29 March 2015


For my Father

Dutifully I dial the number and ask for him.

He answers and
brick by brick we build a conversation.

Progressively the pauses
become more frequent
and intense.

Finally we replace our receivers,
each regretting not having said
what he had no words to say.

Somehow I love him
yet cannot reach him.

8 June 1979

Leaving home was hard for me. It was harder for my father. If I was no longer under his roof I was no longer under his control. He would have to trust that he’d done a good job.

Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6

I did try at first. I made contact with the local congregation but my heart wasn’t in it sepia11and when we moved nine months later I made the break he feared was coming.

Mostly he called me. And it was him. My mum never called and I never called her. It was always Dad. And if Mum answered the phone it wouldn’t be long before I’d ask for him because if I was calling it was to talk to him. That was the way it was in our house. Dad was the head. I’d love to say Mum was the heart. But heart can also mean centre. And Dad was that too.

He never read this poem. It’s a shame because this is probably the last time and the only public time I ever said I loved him. And I did. I was hardwired to. I didn’t always like him but I could never bring myself to hate him. I suppose he loved me. I can’t remember him ever telling me but he showed it and I never doubted it. He was always there for me even when I disappointed him in the worst ways possible.

‘For my Father’ first appeared in print in Sepia #11.

Wednesday 25 March 2015



The eyes
of Men
are filled
with birds.

Often these
falter and

The birds
stand for Hope
and for Freedom.

22 December 1978

I’ve always been drawn towards the parabolic and the epigrammatic. I can think of two sources for my love of the short and the pithy. The first is obvious: the Bible, particularly the book of Proverbs. Whether you believe any of it or not it’s still a great source for writers. I mean Shakespeare’s good and all but he was only one man. The book I’m writing just now references dozens of scriptures which lends the public speakers treasure chesttext a familiar tone even if you’re not quite sure why it’s familiar. Expressions like ‘the prodigal son’ have been absorbed into the English idiom and so why not use them when so much of the work’s been done for you? I still own my father’s bible—such a cliché I know—despite the fact I’ve never opened it in something like eighteen years.

The other source of inspiration is the book of quotations I devoured growing up: The Public Speaker’s Treasure Chest. My copy dates back to the sixties—it was my dad’s originally—but the book keeps getting reprinted. Later, when I started working myself, I supplemented this with my own copy of The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations. I still have both books despite the fact the Internet’s stepped in and now attends to all my quote-related needs which is a shame because I have an emotional attachment to these books that I will never have with BrainyQuote.

Sunday 22 March 2015


City Scene

Anna broke down
by the back door of Arnotts –
she slipped to the pavement
and cried.

Everyone simply passed her by
thinking that she was drunk.

Some threw money.

22 October 1978

I’ve never really considered myself a poet of place. I’m a Scot. I was born in Glasgow—pretty much in the centre of the city—and I’ve lived all my life in Scotland. But the vast majority of my poems are set in nameless places. Of course when I read them they invariably conjure up a place even where no location is specifically mentioned. This is one of the exceptions. Arnotts was a department store on Argyle Street in Glasgow and was a regular place of pilgrimage for my family in the sixties and early seventies. We parked the car on the other side of the Clyde, walked across Glasgow Bridge and headed for Arnotts. It closed in 1993 after trading for sixty years. The posher department store from that time, House of Fraser, is still there but it’s no Fortnum & Mason and never was. A branch of Arnotts—the main branch actually—still exists in Dublin and this poem would work just as well there assuming it has a back door.

Now here’s the thing: ‘City Scene’ is completely fictional. I had never seen anyone even begging outside Arnotts and I’m not sure that the back door which led onto St Enoch Square would be the best place although I imagine you’d be less likely to be moved on by the police. It was not a door we even used in fact I’ve only ever used it once, years after I wrote this poem and what do you think I saw? A woman sitting on the pavement and people throwing money at her. Never experienced anything like it before or since. I felt like I’d stepped into the poem. And here’s the thing I hate about memory: I can remember nothing about her, not even her age or what she was wearing or if she was drunk. Maybe she was ill. No one checked on her. I didn’t even check on her. And just as with the old drunk on Mitchell Street I’ve felt guilty about my inaction ever since.

If you walk down Mitchell Street (where ‘Street Games’ (#414) was set) you come out in front of Arnotts or at least what used to be Arnotts; it’s a Bank of Scotland now. So the two poems are set less than a hundred yards from each other. ‘Chains’ (#464) was written—worked on at least—just outside House of Fraser.

‘City Scene’ first appeared in Sepia #8.


Wednesday 18 March 2015


Les Étrangers

a preoccupation with anti-heroes:
almost faithless voids and phantoms ...
other trees struck by lightning,
impotent as daylight –
residues; threads forgotten.

unlearning ... life-long friends –
wasteland agnostics
who believe in words
but deny their meanings ...

things burned out.

fugitives running from
their roots ... (metaphysics) ...
into blind alleys;

again in chains.

10 June 1978

My wife has just finished reading Ian Rankin’s published first novel, The Flood.. He wrote it in the mid-eighties while still at university. I say ‘published’ because, technically, it wasn’t his first novel. In the book’s introduction he writes:

I'd already written one novel, entitled Summer Rites, a black comedy set in a hotel in the Scottish Highlands. The plot revolved around a one-legged schizophrenic librarian, a young boy with special powers, and the abduction of a famous American novelist by the 'provisional wing" of the Scottish National Party. Curiously, no one had seemed to agree with my judgment that Summer Rites was a fully realised contender for the title of Great Scottish Novel.

It would, of course, be years before I’d try my hand at a novel—by which time Rankin was a household name—but the young Rankin and the young me did have one thing in common: the arrogance of youth. I’m afraid I’m sentimentally attached to ‘Les Étrangers’ and am ill-qualified to judge its worth even after all these years The_Flood_(Ian_Rankin_novel_-_cover_art)but I do recall that at the time I thought it was a full-blown work of genius even if I did misspell the title (‘Les Estrangers’).

I have talked before about how full of myself I was as a young writer. Carrie says that this is where Rankin and I differ. He handles his early efforts with “panache”—he embraces the cocky youth he once was—whereas I tend towards the apologetic. So let me just say, for the record, that when I read this old poem of mine I get the same frisson of excitement now as I did the day I wrote it. It has lost none of its power. Not for me at least.

Like Summer Rites ‘Les Étrangers’ never found a publisher.

Sunday 15 March 2015

The First Bad Man

the first bad man

Real comes and goes and isn’t very interesting. – Miranda July, The First Bad Man

Quirky. It’s an… odd word. When Kate Bush first arrived on the scene she was called “quirky” and it felt like a good fit. Now it’s clearly insufficient. Kate Bush is… well, she’s Kate Bush; there’s no one really quite like her. Except there is. There’s Tori Amos. Or at least there was. She started off as quirky too, moved onto “the new Kate Bush” and has now released enough material that most people recognise her as herself. And the same will happen with Regina Spektor who’s also transcended quirky but maybe not “the next Kate Bush/Tori Amos” tag or at least not yet. When Miranda July arrived people described her as quirky; it clearly covers a multitude of sins. I think what most of us mean when we call something quirky is that it’s different and different makes us uncomfortable; we’re not sure what the rules are. Very few people are truly different, unlike anyone who’s come before them. Or at least not for very long. Glen Miller was just another band leader until he found his sound.

I specifically asked for a review copy of this book. I first encountered July in 2009 when I read her debut short story collection No one belongs here more than you. There was much discussion of the word quirky in the comments to my review. In the review I wrote:

She’s … one of those storytellers who often gets labelled ‘quirky’, a description one needs to approach with caution because it can often mean ‘doesn’t fit anywhere else’. I’ve also heard her called ‘the voice of a generation’, which one I’m not sure. I think X and Y have been used up so I suppose she must be Z and, yes, I’m being facetious.

no one blongs hereIn 2012 I jumped to read her second book, her debut non-fiction collection It Chooses You, which I managed to review without once using the word quirky. Now it’s the turn of her debut novel. In between I watched her films Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future. I’ve never seen any of her short films or music videos or multimedia presentations or plays or listened to her music albums. I imagine many of them have been described as quirky. The thing about quirky is that there’s often a slightly disparaging undertone there. And once used it clings. In an interview in The Observer the author (of the article) notes, “July has been called ‘kooky’ and ‘whimsical’ so many times that she’s beginning to tire of it—and it’s hard not to think that these adjectives are designed to be patronising to women.” July’s response?

Yes, it’s pretty clear that ‘whimsical’ is a diminutising word … I almost think asking the question is like I’m being asked to gossip about myself. I think it’s kind of a female thing, being asked to gossip about yourself. I think I’m maybe done with that.

Miranda July is forty-one now and that’s another thing. Expressions like “quirky” and “kooky” do not hang well on a forty-one-year-old woman.

The First Bad Man is not quirky—not in the cute sense—but it is different and in a world where books are currently being churned out at a rate of four every second different is not simply an achievement, it’s a ruddy miracle. I am not sure I’ve ever read another book like it. Except by July. In that respect it’s what I was expecting, nay hoping for. I planned to read it over three days. I actually read it in two. And what did I think? I tend to judge books by two measures: Did the book make me think? Would I benefit from a second read? The answers to these highly personal questions were: Yes and Yes.

What goes on inside people’s heads? I’ve wondered that all my life. What mechanisms, what beliefs, what delusions, what strengths help then get from one day to the next? Are we all that different? Well I’ll tell you what: I’m very different to Cheryl Glickman, the main protagonist in The First Bad Man. But I do get her up to a point. She’s a coper. She arranges her life and her thought processes to help herself cope. For example, she carries a torch for one of her bosses and her fantasies about him help:

I drove to the doctor’s office as if I was starring in a movie Phillip was watching—windows down, hair blowing, just one hand on the wheel. When I stopped at red lights, I kept my eyes mysteriously forward. Who is she? people might have been wondering. Who is that middle-aged woman in the blue Honda? I strolled through the parking garage and into the elevator, pressing 12 with a casual, fun-loving finger. The kind of finger that was up for anything. Once the doors had closed, I checked myself in the mirrored ceiling and practiced how my face would go if Phillip was in the waiting room.

She wears sensible clothes—“I … wear shoes you can actually walk in, Rockports or clean sneakers instead of high-heeled foot jewellery”—and has a unique system for keeping her house in order:

How much time do you spend moving objects to and fro? Before you move something far from where it lives, remember you’re eventually going to have to carry it back to its place—is it really worth it? Can’t you read the book standing right next to the shelf with your finger holding the spot you’ll put it back into? Or better yet: don’t read it. And if you are carrying an object, make sure to pick up anything that might need to go in the same direction. This is called carpooling.

I’m not sure if she’d describe herself as happy—happiness takes a lot of effort—but she’s reasonably content. If it weren’t for the globus (the persistent sensation of having phlegm, a pill or some other sort of obstruction in the throat when there is none) she’d be well on the way there:

I had not flown to Japan by myself to see what it was like there. I had not gone to nightclubs and said Tell me everything about yourself to strangers. I had not even gone to the movies by myself. I had been quiet when there was no reason to be quiet and consistent when consistency didn’t matter

Everyone thinks she’s dull and maybe she is. On the outside. Because you never know what’s going on inside people’s heads. Like Kubelko Bondy:

        The Bondys were briefly friends with my parents in the early seventies. Mr. and Mrs. Bondy and their little boy, Kubelko. Later, when I asked my mom about him, she said she was sure that wasn’t his name, but what was his name? Kevin? Marco? She couldn’t remember. The parents drank wine in the living room and I was instructed to play with Kubelko. Show him your toys. He sat silently by my bedroom door holding a wooden spoon, sometimes hitting it against the floor. Wide black eyes, fat pink jowls. He was a young boy, very young. Barely more than a year old. After a while he threw his spoon and began to wail. I watched him crying and waited for someone to come but no one came so I heaved him onto my small lap and rocked his chubby body. He calmed almost immediately. I kept my arms around him and he looked at me and I looked at him and he looked at me and I knew that he loved me more than his mother and father and that in some very real and permanent way he belonged to me. Because I was only nine it wasn’t clear if he belonged to me as a child or as a spouse, but it didn’t matter, I felt myself rising up to the challenge of heartache. I pressed my cheek against his cheek and held him for what I hoped would be eternity. He fell asleep and I drifted in and out of consciousness myself, unmoored from time and scale, his warm body huge then tiny—then abruptly seized from my arms by the woman who thought of herself as his mother. As the adults made their way to the door saying tired too-loud thank-yous, Kubelko Bondy looked at me with panicked eyes.
        Do something. They’re taking me away.
        I will, don’t worry, I’ll do something.

        Of course I wouldn’t just let him sail out into the night, not my own dear boy. Halt! Unhand him!
        But my voice was too quiet, it didn’t leave my head. Seconds later he sailed out into the night, my own dear boy. Never to be seen again.

Now she sees him everywhere. “Sometimes he’s a newborn, sometimes he’s already toddling along.” It’s a coping mechanism. “[H]e’s one baby. But he’s played by many babies. Or hosted, maybe that’s a better word for it.” For thirty years they’ve been ships in the night; thirty years of “missed connections”. Of course she doesn’t talk about Kubelko Bondy except to her therapist who, like most therapists, accepts the peculiarities of people without batting an eye: whatever gets you though the night as long as it’s not hurting anyone else… unless they want to be hurt; always that proviso these days.

But then things change. Two things. Firstly, she learns that any chance she might’ve had of being with Phillip has just about evaporated. He confesses to her, “I . . . have fallen in love . . . with a woman who is my equal in every way, who challenges me, who makes me feel, who humbles me. She is sixteen. Her name is Kirsten.” Okay. How do you compete with that? Well, oddly, there is a way and Phillip’s the one who provides it. He wants Cheryl’s blessing. Why Cheryl, after all she’s just a co-worker?

I explained how strong you are, how you’re a feminist and you live alone, and she agreed we should wait until we got your take on it.


“I said you were . . .”—he looked down at my red knuckles—“someone I had a lot to learn from.” With a firm push he pressed his fingers between my fingers. “And I told her how perfectly balanced you are in terms of your masculine and feminine energies.” We began making a small undulating wave, threading and rethreading our hands. “So you can see things from a man’s point of view, but without being clouded by yang.”

That’s a lot of power he’s just handed her. And she’s not the kind of person to make snap decisions.

The second, and by far more interesting change, is the arrival of Clee. Her bosses ask her to take their twenty-one-year-old daughter in. Cheryl’s known the girl on and off since she was fourteen but only in passing. Always one to oblige Cheryl agrees:

        “Clee! Welcome!” She stepped back quickly as if I intended to embrace her. “It’s a shoeless household, so you can put your shoes right there.” I pointed and smiled and waited and pointed again. She looked at the row of my shoes, different brown shapes, and then down at her own shoes, which seemed to be made out of pink gum.
         “I don’t think so,” she said in a surprisingly low, husky voice.
        We stood there for a moment. I told her to hold on, and went and got a plastic produce bag. She looked at me with an aggressively blank expression while she kicked off her shoes and put them in the bag.

What has she let herself in for? And can she handle it? Something you should know about Cheryl, what she does for a living:

[O]ur real business is in fitness DVDs now. Selling self-defence as exercise was my idea. Our line is competitive with other top workout videos; most buyers say they don’t even think about the combat aspect, they just like the up-tempo music and what it does to their shape. Who wants to watch a woman getting accosted in a park? No one.

And this is relevant because…? Because Clee—a self-described misogynist—is not one to keep her hands to herself. And apart from being half her age Clee’s part Swedish and a big girl: “she had a blond, tan largeness of scale”. You’d think after their first physical exchange Cheryl would simply say things weren’t working out and ask her politely to leave but that’s not how things pan out and the two women develop a very unique way of coping with their differences and the pressures of living together.

And then things get worse.

In an interview for NPR July says:

Without giving too much away, there is an actual, real baby that is made in this book. And one of the most interesting discoveries that I made, as one does when they're writing—like, you don't know everything that's going to happen—was to realize that this book was an origin story, among other things, and that it wasn't one about a baby being made by two people coming together and having sex. It was a baby made by sexual fantasy, by mistakes, by a web created in Cheryl's mind that strung together all these people who eventually overlapped enough to create a baby.

That paragraph feels like a huge spoiler but that’s because I’ve read the book. It’s really nowhere near as helpful as you might imagine but it is fair to tell those sensitive souls out there that there’s a lot of talk—a lot of thinking actually—about sex because—shock! horror!—sex is a coping mechanism and is definitely a part of Cheryl’s life. All I’m saying is: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Cheryl has a vivid imagination although she’s clearly read no porn—or probably any erotica—because her descriptions of sexual relations are painful to read.

But July is right when she says this is an origin story. It’s also a love story. It’s the story of a woman coming to love herself, of a woman moving from coping to living. By the end of this book we’re looking at a very different Cheryl. Another thing—and this was something I picked up from a rather too revealing interview with July for After Ellen—is the problems that come when we prejudge: sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes a cigar is actually a penis substitute only no one’s told it.

A word about the title: The first bad man is a character in a self-defence DVD. The attackers don’t have names so how would you describe them?

“The one in denim?”
“The first bad man.”

If, like me, you’ve read Miranda July before and enjoyed what you’ve read or been taken in by her films then this will not disappoint. If you know nothing more than you’ve read in this review then it might take you a wee while to find your feet. And you might not like it. There were things Miranda Julyabout what happened to the characters I didn’t enjoy reading about or understand (I get frustration; I get anger; I don’t get violence) but she writes well even when she’s writing badly. Cheryl is a three-dimensional character—although not an especially deep one (she doesn’t aspire to much)—and you’ll have rarely seen anyone this naked on the page. That’s the benefit of a first person narrative. The problem with it is that we don’t get the same insight into Clee’s motivations nor any of the others. That said, I’m not sure if I’d got into Clee’s “not-so-bright” head she would’ve had the answers I was looking for; she’s not exactly a deep thinker but that doesn’t mean she’s two-dimensional. Which is okay. It’s okay not to have all the answers. Why do people do the things they do? God alone knows. Half the time most of us have no idea why we do the things we do.

It’s not, however, a masterpiece—the word is overused and hence devalued (there are some people would have you believe Beethoven never put a note wrong)—and there’s room for criticism. One Amazon reviewer (who gave the book a not exactly unreasonable three stars) wrote:

The overwhelming praise for this book is baffling. There are flashes of humour and some great lines, but the book as a whole is dull and bogged down by a lazy narrative voice. The prose is mostly mediocre and unoriginal (yet people are calling it brilliant and unique because she uses a lot of short and sloppy sentences). The characters often feel uninspired and wholly unrelatable, and there's little here to hold the reader's attention. The book is saved by great dialogue that carries us through an otherwise sluggish journey of reflection and confusion. If this is what people think is brilliant, cutting-edge, surreal, or even bizarre, then they aren't reading very many books. I found this very run-of-the-mill and couldn't wait for it to be over. The only thing that kept me reading was the possibility that something truly unique would happen.

There’s clearly a case to be answered here but I suspect what it boils down to it expectation and taste. As another reviewer (who gave the book five stars) put it:

As usual when regarding July's work, either you love it or you deeply hate it, there's no halfway.

I’m not sure I agree with that either. For a more balanced three-star review have a look at what Barry Pierce had to say on Goodreads.

The book made me think. I’d be interested to read it a second time. That’s enough for me. People read too much into stars. Astrologers have been doing it for centuries.

You can read an excerpt from the book here.

I’ll leave you with an interview with the author (she talks about her supposed quirkiness at 24:18):

Wednesday 11 March 2015



In many ways
Life is like the bed
in which we fake love
(revealing ourselves
along with our bodies)
after which we lie
foetal and impotent.

In Death we leave the bed,
still warm,
stained with dreams.

9 March 1979

The title I probably borrowed from Owen—I always liked his ‘Futility’—but other than that I don’t remember much about this one. I recall an editor knocking it back because he didn’t care for the opening line and I get where he’s coming from. In the novel I’m editing just now I use ‘seems’ a ridiculous number of times. I’ve removed most of them but couldn’t resist grafting in:

Reality, though we like to think that’s how things really stand, is a fly one (anything that can be perceived can be misinterpreted): nothing is; everything seems to be.

This is why I hate the notion of truth. Truth is but most things are not, not wholly anything. How are you feeling? I’m happy. Are you? Are you truly happy? How sepia9happy are you? You can’t say you’re happy if you’re not 100% happy. And how long can you keep that up? Life is not a bed (with or without roses strewn over it) and only at times does it resemble a bed. Probably not even many ways. Just occasionally. In poor light.

When I reread this just now I wondered if this poem had been influenced by Beckett but I probably didn’t see Waiting for Godot for another year after which I rushed out and bought his Collected Shorter Plays. Reading this I can see why I connected with him. It has a griminess that you find in Beckett, especially his short prose pieces.

‘Futility’ first appeared in Sepia #9 (misnumbered at #10) along with ‘Punks’.

Sunday 8 March 2015



Poems are near
naked thoughts: for

we will not take
off our clothes since

we are ashamed
of our bodies.

7 January 1979

Poems’ was first published in First Time #18 in 1990. It is the first poem in my new collection Reader Please Supply Meaning. It is also the first poem I ever wrote about poetry. A lot of people look down on poems about poems. I’ve never understood this; poetry fascinates me.

Over five hundred poems later, in poem #1064 ‘Subcutaneousness’, I wrote:

Poems are flat.
Poetry’s not.

What do I mean by that? A poem is an artificial construct. A photograph isn’t real life. It looks real enough but it’s only an agglomeration of pixels. It suggests reality. At best it’s a subset of reality. Likewise a poem is not poetry. It is a sequence of letters. (Let’s not complicate matters by bringing in visual poetry here.)

I eschew all romantic notions of poetry but poetry—if you like poetry-with-a-capital-p—is, to my mind, a kind of meaning. A poem is an attempt to transcribe part of this “meaning” into words and, as such, is doomed to fail; words are poor containers for meaning. What is meaning anyway? It’s one of those words we chuck around—like poetry—without really having a handle on what it… well, what it means. What does someone mean when they say that something “means something” to them? They can never put this something into words or, if they try, whatever it is finds itself somehow diminished in the process. Often that “meaning” is sentimental attachment and that’s almost as hard to explain.

Sentiment. What does it even mean? Well, one meaning—dare I say its primary meaning?—is: an attitude, thought, or judgment prompted by feeling. Seems like not a bad definition of how poetry works because I suspect all poetry begins with feelings, get translated into thoughts (and, of course, much is lost in the translation) and then it finds its way back into feelings again. Poems are therefore filters. You could say they refine. Perhaps they dilute. They no longer mean; they suggest.

Reginald Shepherd wrote:

I am not interested in the poem as a record of experience; I’m interested in the poem as an experience in itself.

I concur. There is an old adage, attributed to Heraclitus, which goes something like: You could not step twice into the same river. Two men cannot step once into the same river. Experience is unique to every individual. So although it’s not wrong to talk about reading a poem the verb falls short of what’s going on here: we experience poetry. At least that’s what the goal is. Anyone can read a poem—it’s merely a string of words on a page—but not everyone will connect with it. Am I making sense?

For nearly forty years I’ve wondered about this process. What happens when we read a poem? What do we expect is going to happen? Over the next few weeks and months I’ll post some of the poems from Reader Please Supply Meaning. It’s a project that’s ongoing. Maybe I’ll publish an expanded version in twenty years. Maybe I’ll have poetry sussed by then. At the moment the collection contains about a hundred poems in chronological order and with an introductory essay which you can read in full on my website here along with a handful of poems from the book.

You can buy the book here for the very reasonable price of £5.99 (including postage) if you live in the UK.

And if you need any encouragement this is what my wife said to me about the book—this, you must understand, is the woman who on reading a novel I’d slaved over for four years said it was “good” (so not someone given to hyperbole)—“You watch [the poems] progress until they’re almost too good for words.” She made me write that down. I can probably die happy now.

Wednesday 4 March 2015



...and in an inflamed sky
the sun bled light,
and the ground opened
its lips in parched
voiceless protest.

Trees are lungs
are gasping for
breath, and my thoughts
are phlegmy and ancient
in concept:– I must
be naked and
prostrate in serving
this god by the
edge of waters that
taste of salt; Man's part,
Primeval ... the
Sun's merely divine.

lungsI make a big thing these days about the fact I don’t have a spiritual side. I think, I feel and that’s it. I’m not saying those who do find a place for the spiritual in their lives are wrong or misguided. I’m really not in a position to do so. It would be like a blind man commenting on the tones in a Rothko. I was brought up in a Christian faith and it was a very academic upbringing. Faith was a product of reason even reasoning as basic as looking at the night sky and seeing it as a product of an intelligent mind. The evidence is compelling and yet I lack whatever it is spiritual people have. I’m like a blind man in Rothko’s Chapel. It’s nice and quiet. Seats are a bit hard. And it’s a bit chilly if I’m being honest.

I have no idea where this poem came from. It was written just after ‘Stray’ and so there’s definitely a vibe here. The ending’s weak which is a shame because it has a strong rhythm until the penultimate line. It’s the extra syllable in ‘merely’ that ruins it or the ‘the’ in the line before it.

I always liked the image of trees as lungs because sans leaves that’s exactly what they look like.

Sunday 1 March 2015



The bass player
picks from the hip,
stands splay-legged,
clings to his phallic guitar.

the lead singer
falls on the microphone,
holds it like a woman,
leers lupine at the audience.

You can't sing – scream.
You can't dance –
don't dance:
bounce up and down.

On the crest of a new wave
their day is marked by the tide.

24 September 1978

I was a seventeen-year-old civil servant when punk arrived late in 1976 and I know this sounds terrible to say considering how young I was but I was already too old-fashioned, too established to embrace the punk lifestyle except in spirit. I agreed wholeheartedly, however, with what Bob Geldof said in 1979 on the revived Juke Box Jury that punk was the enema the music industry needed at that time. It was. I recorded the whole of Punk Britannia when it was shown back in 2012 and I watched it during one of my wife’s trips to the States and I have to say I got terribly nostalgic. Carrie is not only an American but twelve years older than me and at the time I was enthralled by the Sex Pistols and The Stranglers she was bringing up two kids and listening to country music so my fascination is somewhat lost on her although she is tolerant. She wasn’t here in 1977; she doesn’t get it. During another one of her trips I watched the documentary series The Seventies. I found it fascinating. I really didn’t remember things being as bleak as they clearly were and I actually look back on the latter half of the seventies with genuine affection; I had some good times then. ‘Holidays in the Sun’ was my favourite Sex Pistols track at the time and The Stranglers’ ‘No More Heroes’ never leaves my all-time Top Ten. Before Carrie comes back from her trips I usually give the house a bit of a spring clean (irrespective of the actual season) and quite often while doing that I’ll stick on The Best Punk Album in The World ... Ever! or something like that that and crank up the volume a bit.

‘Punks’ was first published in Sepia #9 (incorrectly numbered #10).

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